“Eveline” is an example of naturalistic fiction in which the protagonist, described at one point as a “helpless animal,” responds to internal anxieties and environmental forces, particularly the influences of family life and the responsibilities to which she has been conditioned, and of a working life in Ireland, with its impoverishment, as Joyce imagined it. The way that “Eveline” and other stories of Dubliners reflect the details and concerns of everyday life closely observed and raised to significance through art suggests the influence of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, but Ellmann notes in his biography James Joyce (1959) that Joyce claimed not to have read Chekhov at the time that he wrote those stories.
The purpose of Joyce’s realistic fiction, however, was not simply the close observation of banal detail. The details are carefully crafted and arranged so as to accumulate in such a way as to give meaning to the story’s climax, in keeping with the young writer’s theory of the “epiphany.” The progression is dramatic in Aristotelian terms, in that the central character is brought to a point of recognition and discovery, as suggested by Aristotle’s Poetics. Eveline’s self-discovery comes at the very end of the story. Her revelation is that she lacks the commitment and perhaps the courage to act on her dream of escape. When forced to choose between staying in Ireland and going to South America, she is also forced to confront her true feelings about Frank, who is “beyond the barrier” at that point, urging her to board the ship: “Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.” Eveline is reduced to a frightened, “helpless animal,” as Joyce describes her at the end, who is incapable of exploring “another life with Frank.”